By: Colin Bullen

As I write this, emotions are still raw from world events over the last few months. George Floyd’s death is still causing massive civil upheaval, COVID death rates continue to rise, particularly in the US, and fractures are emerging where stability previously existed. Even some of the most optimistic correspondents I know are feeling despondent and taking to the normally quiet backstreets of LinkedIn to proclaim their disgust and intolerance of our inability to put prejudice behind us. Change Craft fully supports NWI in its statement of solidarity and call to action.

It’s all too easy to lose hope and direction in what feels like a relentless torrent of self-interest, strong-arming and distinction-driven rhetoric that has no place in a flourishing human ecosystem. Whatever you might be feeling or experiencing right now – perhaps COVID has dealt you a tough hand or you are afraid because of the color of your skin – it’s more important than ever to get into action and be an agent for change. And, specifically, I’d like you to keep your mind open to the possibilities of positive change.

The world of change is a broad church, including everything from diversity and inclusion, digital transformation, corporate strategy evolution and, of course, health and wellbeing. As most of you reading this will be interested in health and wellbeing, we’ll focus on this and use illustrations you will be familiar with. But keep in mind that positive change can be used in almost any part of your life or work.

To Change, First Appreciate What Works

There are two fundamental ways to create change.

  1. Evaluate what’s wrong and figure out how to fix it. Widely and successfully used by physicians and consultants the world over, it identifies and solves problems.
  2. Dream and boldly envision what the potential of a person, organization or other system could be and start a process which takes you there.

While there is nothing wrong with the first option, option two can take you further. If the first process might be termed ‘curative change’ (or traditional change management), the second process is ‘positive change’.

Prof David Cooperrider created a methodology for delivering positive change and gave his process a name – Appreciative Inquiry. It’s ‘appreciative’ for two reasons. Firstly, by its nature, it is appreciative of every aspect of the current system and the people in it. Secondly, it leans on appreciation in a value sense – the growth or appreciation of capital (human in this case). The process itself is an inquiry, an all-inclusive (where practical) open question-based sequence of learning.  This helps stakeholders share and develop a deeper understanding of the great things that are going on within the system.  They then leverage that learning to create pathways to a better future.

The graphic below illustrates how Appreciative Inquiry leads to surprising and often wildly superior outcomes well beyond what can be achieved by normal change processes.

Given that Appreciative Inquiry is founded on the same positive psychology that Martin Seligman has promoted for many years, I’ve been wondering why I’ve seen so few Appreciative Inquiries in the realm of health and wellness. I am left wondering if we see wellbeing as a something other than a change process. And, if we do, do we see it as a ‘problem solving’ exercise – helping people to solve for health problems, rather than take the opportunity to live their fullest lives?

For many, health and wellness has evolved from the medical arena, which would, of course, explain this train of thought. However, solving for the things that have gone wrong misses all the possibilities for human improvement and flourishing which should be the vision and goal for wellbeing.

Engage Everyone in Dialogue

For those who already know about Change Craft, you’ll be aware that we believe passionately in creating contexts for people to make it easier to adopt better and healthier behaviors. We believe this is the way to create healthy behavior change that is engaging, effective and enjoyable. But which contexts should you change and how?

In our BRATLAB research, we’ve identified 80 distinct methods for creating better influences across the four contexts through applying four powers. It’s not always immediately obvious which of these methods will be effective, so why not ask people? Through Appreciative Inquiry focused on healthy habit adoption, the group that you are working with can create a narrative about what is already being done well and extrapolate that to create a vision of what is possible.

Appreciative Inquiry works on a simple four-step process, as illustrated in the graphic below.

  1. Discovery: eliciting stories from members of the group about what happens in the system when it is at its best
  2. Dream: collecting and synthesizing the learnings from the Discovery and imagining the future by leveraging the population’s strengths
  3. Design: Create bridges to the future based on the best of the past and the present. Building the tactical steps to maximize the probability of achieving the Dream.
  4. Destiny: making it happen, this is the implementation phase.

To move this forward, help your company or client create a vision of what a healthy, thriving workplace looks like, and be bold. Then ask the people. Appreciative Inquiry is inclusive – its proponents advocate for including absolutely everyone in the process if you possibly can (and it’s not as difficult as it might sound). By formalizing the interview process and structuring cascading interviews, it’s possible to use the energy generated by an Appreciative Inquiry interview to convert the interviewee to an interviewer. Thus a relatively small centralized coordinating team can quickly cover significant proportions of the entire population.

What are you waiting for?

If you are the reader I think you are, you are motivated to make the world a better place. Think about how you can start a positive change conversation with your stakeholders. People are despondent about a great many things right now and being the voice of opportunity and optimism at this time is exactly how you can make a difference. Grounding the conversation in the good things that are going on and drawing on people’s stories of better times will change the narrative and mood and help build a better, brighter future for everyone.

If you’d like help, email me at colin@changecraft.consulting, and we’ll be pleased to assist.

Further reading

If you are interested to find out more, there are plenty of online references, but here is a four-minute video of David Cooperrider talking about Appreciative Inquiry.

This 10-minute video is an overview of Appreciative Inquiry by Jackie Kelm.

If you want to know how to apply Appreciative Inquiry in practice, the best book I’ve read on the subject is “The Power of Appreciative Inquiry” by Diana Whitney and Amanda Trosten-Bloom. A shorter text for those wanting to get there quicker is the “Thin Book on Appreciative Inquiry” by Sue Annis Hammond.

If you want to know more about Change Craft, please contact us on hello@changecraft.consulting or visit our website.


Colin BullenColin Bullen is the founder and director of Change Craft, a global business established to help organisations execute effective and successful well-being change. In business, he’s the technician, evaluator, and strategist. A true road-less-traveled devotee, he qualified as an actuary in 1992 in the UK before spending 13 years in South Africa where he met Chicago-based business partner Hanlie van Wyk. During this time, he has steadily broadened his métier into health, well-being, leadership, strategy, assessment, and data.

Colin has a deep passion for helping companies find their human touch, whilst accelerating their performance and focusing their vision. Colin is also one of the creators of the behavioral research database that is BRATLAB and has been a driving force behind early successes in Change Craft.